CLAS Acts

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CLAS Acts

May 2015
Vol. 8, issue 9 Monthly newsletter for the tenure track faculty of CLAS

FROM THE DEAN'S DESK

Frederick J. Antczak, Dean

"We have the luxury of having a deep bench, and it allows us to stay fresh through substitutions. It keeps us that much stronger throughout the rest of the game."

~Jessica Ajoux (who knows a thing or two about agility)

"Transition management" is often talked about in terms of sustainable development. In practical terms, when things change, first we need to be sure all the functions are being covered.  But thinking about that also creates an opportunity to work on the system, and see if it is possible to make it even better in any of its dimensions. But first, as Associate Dean Mary Schutten prepares to become Dean of CASA at San José State, we can't help but reflect on the nature of her contributions.  If you look at them together, they were frequently fixes to something that seemed intractable.  Her work reminded us not to neglect the supposedly "too hard" basket (I'm sure if I can get some layers off my desk, I'll find mine).  I'm always proud when our leaders decide that the job of dean is within their reach.  And as AD Shaily Menon gets ready to head off for a year of ACE work, I am reminded, because I also have learned from her, of her approach which she thinks of as distributed and highly collaborative. As you read in my email a couple weeks ago, our approach to the next year will be to bring together a much larger than usual team-five part-time interim assistant deans who will also remain in their departments with some of their faculty duties.  It was important to me to make the plan cost neutral, by the way; you have to live within a budget, and so should I.  In addition to adding to the repertoire of these colleagues, our college office will benefit from their fresh eyes on the many processes we face every year and any challenges that arise this particular coming academic year.  We've been teasing Associate Dean Gretchen Galbraith that she is suddenly the "senior" Associate Dean for at least a while.  I wanted, in advance, to thank the units who are lending us some of these valuable colleagues' time to help run the college.  We promise to return them unharmed and with an even broader and even more valuable perspective on the running of this place for the prospering of our students. I hope you are thinking about similar opportunities you have at the unit level.  It is well worth having a discussion (as several of our units already do) about your representation on governance committees.  In the short term, that faculty member may be concentrating on college or university level business, but while that is happening, your voice is heard in important forums.  Afterward, these faculty return to all of their duties with an enhanced sense of the whole from which our units benefit in many ways. We don't often talk about institutional savvy.  It isn't really addressed by our graduate schools as we enter this profession.  But then we read about the projected 400 people to be cut at a place like University of Wisconsin-Madison due to a state budget plan.  Suddenly, it makes a whole lot of sense to make sure your department has plenty of resident experts in matters such as building a strong and sustainable curriculum, making its hiring lead to appropriate professional development and then successful personnel decisions, and generally making the most of our interconnectedness.  Here in Michigan, our legislature has responded positively to the health of our institution, and our ability to communicate it.  While we wish every elected official shared our abiding confidence in the benefits of a liberal arts education, we know that we always have some persuading to do, some provision of numbers about those things that are in some manner quantifiable, some flashing around of awards and "top school" lists (even if we wish that we had more audiences for whom the quality of our programs could be communicated succinctly in more holistic ways). Thank you for your hard work all term and all of this academic year.  Your students speak so well of you (I really should sell tickets to our CLAS Student Advisory Committee meetings).  Alumni frequently note that they are not so sure they could get into Grand Valley now, so you have built its standards well.  And every year our top alumni come back and say at our Alumni-in-Residence luncheon that they owe their inspiring lives to the start they made here with you.  We graduated our 100,000th alum last Saturday-a CLAS alum.  Our legacy is one that is thriving and deserves to be sustained.  Over the summer, I hope you will have a chance to reflect on the part you want to play as we move forward and into a year in which planning will be very much on all our plates.  Be well and happy in the sunshine which I'm sure will make an appearance any minute now.  Refresh and recharge-you've earned it, and it will make you better able to profess when the season comes 'round again.   The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.

Help Us Build Student Success with the CLAS Scholarship Fund CLAS on the Green Golf Outing June 17, 2015    

Have you set your out-of-office message in Outlook?  Is your voicemail message appropriate?  

REMINDER: Celebrate Mary Schutten with us on May 12  Date: May 12, 2015 
Time: 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. 
Location: Thornapple Room, KC   Send a Farewell message to Mary  

Summer is a great time to check department websites for old info (for instance, addresses as you move to a new building, retired staff, student workers who have graduated...)    

Are you moving house this summer?  Don't forget to send a change of address to Heidi (nicholhe@ gvsu.edu).  

Have some great teaching pictures?  We'd love to consider your high res images for the CLAS annual report.  Send your best to clas@gvsu.edu before May 28.            

     
Faculty Feature

The Biochemistry (and Real Fun) of Contagious Critical Thinking

Associate Professor of Chemistry Brad Wallar has plenty of biochemistry content to cover in his classes, but never takes his eye off the larger educational objective.  "The overall goal for teaching," he explains, "is to make well rounded critical thinkers." Ultimately, he wants his students to put together concepts and information to solve problems, be creative, and take an active role in creating "bridges between the bits" so that the result is bigger and better than the mere parts.  In practice, this is not just a matter of how he teaches the class, but also how he designs the exams and other assessments.  He feels blessed, having subject matter as exciting as biochemistry, because it is not hard to interest students in how human beings work on the cellular level.  While students may not remember every detail of the content they are taught, Brad says that is okay so long as they are getting the concepts, becoming better critical thinkers, better problem solvers and achieving the goal of learning how to learn. Reflecting on his own graduate education in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota, he describes that as a period of learning to solve problems.  He uses this memory to steer students away from rote memorization which may have resulted in good grades in some classes but which is not a way to truly learn in the sense he means.  To help students experience the difference, Brad designs tests that present students with a challenge so that they see over time that they are becoming better problem solvers.  "It's fun to see them get the confidence," Brad adds. "I'm still in the process myself-I wish I had gotten it earlier." He sees this confidence building in their own critical thinking as the best investment students make in themselves and the best one he makes in them.  "I tell them, 'don't overestimate my role in your education'," he smiles. In fact, Brad Wallar likes seeing this transformation in confidence and problem solving ability as an especially big benefit of undergraduate teaching.  "To try to do undergrad, grad and post-doc education is pretty hard," he notes.  "I'd rather concentrate on undergrads because I really like the process.  Everybody is different.  The fun part is seeing them work through this difficult process.  Undergraduate mentoring allows you to spend more time in that part of the process.  Lab work takes you into rather specific problems to solve that no one else yet has.  The goal is the same, but in the lab the time is more focused." Brad also enjoys working with the students on their professional development including their writing, presentation, and organizational skills. He helps them to know their audience.  "I find that this part of mentoring allows you to help students clear up any misconceptions they have about what the job is. They come to see that learning the subject at a high level is part of it, but it is a well-rounded liberal arts education that makes you good." Illustrating from his CHM 462 course, Brad points out that revisions are key to the sort of writing he wants from the students.  He explains to them, "You are telling a story" when writing a proposal.  He tells them that what they are doing is also what others are doing in art-creating something to bridge the gap in knowledge. As a student, one of his favorite courses was Greek and Roman Poetry, taught by an English professor who wondered why Brad was in his class. "Because you are awesome," came the answer. Brad credits a particular analysis of Catullus with some of the best critical thinking he did in his undergraduate classes. "I miss that little British guy in the bow tie.  He was contagious!"  Brad was honored to be asked to write a letter of recommendation for an award in praise of that contagious professor who he knows influenced his own desire to teach undergraduates.  This undergraduate focus makes GVSU a keeper for Brad.  "I know I'll end up here," he says as he casts his mind forward.  A moment later, he is back to talking about teaching his students how to navigate the process of submitting papers for publication.  "I remind them to put reviewers in a happy mood; when you give one a bad product it is human to be annoyed."  Likening reviewers to professors, he reminds his students that the faculty know they have taught their students to produce a higher level of work and that students should fix all the glitches that are within their power to revise. "In 462, they go through quite a revision process for writing a scientific paper.  When you read a good one-wow, that's fun.  It's good for them to be better than we were at that stage," he says with well-earned pride.  "I didn't get this kind of professional development.  I didn't know I was writing a story.  Reflecting on my student self helps me.  I ask myself what I expected of myself back then.  My liberal arts experiences opened my eyes.  I'm glad I didn't go to a technical school and instead took that English class." He also acknowledges that since science is an international collaboration, students really need to move beyond their small town beginnings.  "You have to know you don't know everything-sometimes you need further data." Brad is happy to surprise his students that their professor does not know everything and that they need to "do science" to find answers.  "Those who go off to do just that, to do great things, after your big investment in them-it's really great," Brad explains and goes on to illustrate with the trajectories of various former students who are now doctors and professors.  "Really fun." He is also deeply appreciative of his colleagues and loves the informal conversations with them about everything from dealing with student situations and challenges to how to be a better mentor.  "Your department allows you to ask a lot of questions, to be influenced by your colleagues in your teaching.  GVSU provides a fantastic environment for that with support for mentors and through the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, but yet does not make you teach a certain way.  You grow into your role, into the kind of professor you want to be.  The teaching bar is high and that really motivates me.  It is supportive here.  Everybody cheers for you-but when you see the level at which people do their job-that provides the pressure to do well."  His list of those who have provided this support and set the bar so high is considerable, including but not limited to Tom Pentecost ("a brilliant teacher"), Dave Leonard ("my official first-year mentor"), Bob Smart, Steve Matchett, Debbie Herrington, Laurie Witucki...-"they always had my back." This winner of the University Outstanding Teaching Award, Pew Teaching Excellence Award, Distinguished Undergraduate Mentor Award, and Professor of the Year from the GVSU Educational Support Program concludes that positive student results provide the most important positive reinforcement.  "You do it to do right by the students."  

Update on space renovations and moves in Summer 2015

During early May, some of the Biology and CMB labs will move into storage.  During May through August we will begin the first of a two-phase project to update 32K square feet  in Padnos and Henry Halls for Chemistry, Biomedical Sciences, Physics, and Geology. On July 1, the Biology and CMB equipment in storage will start to move to the new science building. By July 24, the Biology and CMB faculty and offices will move to the new science building. On August 1, research spaces will open for Biology, CMB, and BMS in the new science building. Movement Science offices will move from MAK to the new building in late June. From early May through mid-August, spaces vacated by MOV and IT will be renovated for Modern Languages and Literatures, Mathematics, and Statistics. The offices in Henry Hall will be patched and painted, as needed, and starting August 5, BMS faculty and staff will move into HRY. The BMS laboratories will follow two weeks later. Padnos Hall will undergo two phases of office shuffles beginning on August 11 through August 18.  Remodeled laboratory space will open about a week later.  

Update from Pat Haynes on progress toward Fiscal Year End

Much of the correspondence regarding year end budget closeout has already gone forward to the unit heads.  Any units that received Round #1 year end equipment purchases know that the allocation must be expended by May 7.  My office has received the initial year end balance projections, and there will be a follow up request for projection toward the end of May.  If funds remain in the College budget there is the possibility of a Round #2 year end equipment allocation to be made May 29.  More detailed timelines for year end close will be published by the Business Office, but for now we know that Friday, June 12 will be the final day to submit requisitions and also to purchase computers.